'Small And Smaller' Sets Stage For Detroit Auto Show

A sub-theme of the coming North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month could be "Small and Smaller."

If one looks at the lineup of vehicles automakers are going to show off--near production and in concept--there's a better than good chance that automakers will be outdoing each other to prove they can fit a legitimate sedan or crossover into a shoebox and paint it green.

The show's organizers say that over 50 concepts and new production cars and trucks will see the klieg lights on Jan. 13-15.

Environmental friendliness isn't new to the show and concept world--Ford has been showing vehicles for some time made of recycled and environmentally friendly materials--and nearly every automaker has used shows to demonstrate how committed they are to hydrogen, hybrids, ethanol and other programs.

Still, there's been a shift in weight from even, say, 2003--when the Detroit show was still largely an automotive version of the Mr. Universe contest: it was mostly about muscle and size.

Things have changed a lot since then, and it's an indication of the market's direction (compact cars and crossovers were the only segments to grow share this year) that GM's Hummer and Ford's Land Rover will show smaller concepts. The former will show the HX--which, if produced, would be called H4, the first real competitor in the U.S. market for the Jeep Wrangler in many moons. Land Rover will roll out its first compact crossover SUV concept, called LRX.

Chrysler will show three electric cars for each brand: the Jeep Renegade; Dodge Zeo and Chrysler EcoVoyager minivan.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz are bringing diesel vehicles to the U.S., and it is a good bet that both companies will bring versions of those cars to the Detroit show along with a road show intended to tout diesel as a clean, economic fuel. Mercedes will also roll out its first luxury compact SUV.

Toyota will show a 2009 model-year vehicle called Venza--a small crossover that the company says combines sedan and SUV, and seats five. The company, which has for years been expanding its production footprint outside Japan, says the new car will be designed and engineered in the U.S. and assembled at Toyota's manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Ky.

Kia will bow a seven-passenger crossover called Borrego, Honda will show a prototype of the next-generation Honda Pilot, and Nissan--among other things--will show Motown its Forum concept car.

Still, tribute must be paid to muscle: what would a Detroit auto show be without the 'vette? Chevrolet will come through with the 2009 Corvette ZR1--a concept that the company says is intended to show that Chevy can deliver a supercar, complete with carbon-fiber components, etc., at a fraction of the price.

And Ford will show the new F-150 pickup--a vehicle that was until recently the top-selling vehicle in America, and whose importance to the company can't be overstated, particularly with Toyota's Tundra getting the nod as Motor Trend's Truck of the Year.

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